Sustainable Business Planning

Sustainable Business Planning: Director of Sustainability Says Need to Green Business is Urgent

In his book, Auden Schendler of Aspen Skiing Company says climate crisis requires businesses to lead sustainability revolution. Efficiency, new energy sources needed.

In Getting Green Done: Hard Truths from the Front Lines of the Sustainability Revolution, Sustainability Director Auden Schendler makes no bones about it: Climate change is real and requires the urgent attention of business leaders. Business has caused climate change, he asserts, and business is threatened by climate change. Business is between a rock and a hard place.

Although books like Natural Capitalism and Cradle to Cradle make green sound easy enough to accomplish in a timely manner, Schendler is not so sure. Such books seem to say that “business can have it all: competitive business and clean air, booming sales and biodiversity.” His experience is that environmentally sustainable practices are much harder to put into practice. By sharing his failures at the tony ski resort in Aspen, he hopes to help others get over the hurdles.

Climate Science: We Must Cut CO2 Emission

Schendler notes that scientists who speak different languages and examine different data have come to the same conclusion: climate change is real. Changes are happening and the speed of change now exceeds the direst predictions. We must cut CO2 emissions by 80 percent by mid-century. This is a colossal task and individual actions aren’t enough.

It is difficult and expensive to make the changes that need to be made, but we must. The time has come to stop studying the problem and just move on to the hard work.

Objections to Energy Efficiency and Sustainability Actions

At Aspen Skiing Company, the author met resistance even to projects that guaranteed energy savings because others in the organization saw change as too risky. The reluctance to change from business as usual and risk damage to existing business is powerful.

In another case, Schendler met resistance because the green plan would cause a budget overrun. Even when cost savings over the life of the project was demonstrated to managers, the budget did not allow the new green technology to be used. If the money was not in the project budget, he could not make headway.

There are often good business reasons why green technologies or environmentally sustainable actions were denied due to traditional business rules.

Call to Wait for New and Less Expensive Technology a Smokescreen

Schendler notes Bush administration tactics that encouraged businesses to think that they could put off change because a new and better technology is just around the corner. Schendler says it is not and we cannot wait.

The green wave is building and companies like Wal-Mart know it. As an example, they are pricing CFL lightbulbs at $2 and stacking them at eye level. They are calling on suppliers to go green. Smart business leaders are going green and, most importantly, are changing consumer awareness about sustainable purchasing.

First-cost barriers, lack of understanding, and the tendency to deny that climate change is happening quickly are impediments, that are slowly being overcome

Ideas to Move Sustainable Business Plans Forward

Some ideas are offered to get businesses moving on making the changes that must be made.

  • Government incentives can be used to prime the pump. Once energy efficiency savings are noted, businesses will be hooked.
  • Put a price on carbon emissions. Move beyond cost savings.
  • Create an emissions reduction profession.
  • Buy renewable energy credits, but use care. Get honest information about projects to be funded. Don’t buy cheap RECs to greenwash. The consumer will expose such action.
  • Good government regulations are needed to correct previous supports for coal and oil that pervert the market. The free market can’t work in favor of green energy alternatives with old supports in place.
  • Reform LEED; turn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design into a manual for green building rather than a certification program.
  • Use lifecycle analysis instead of straight line budgeting on new and retrofitting projects.
  • Use green marketing and public relations tactics. Consumers will steer businesses who misuse these toward improved practices because research shows that consumers are using the Internet to check up on claims.

Green is Niche Marketing … For Now

Schendler says that green is a niche market for now but businesses that dominate brands are going green because they care about the perception that they are green. Leading businesses recognize that a cultural change is taking place in society and that green and sustainable ways of doing business are becoming the new normal.

The vision for a sustainable society speaks to the human spirit, he believes, as well as the search for meaningful existence and noble action.